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Face coverings to be compulsory on UK public transport

Image credit: reuters

Face coverings or masks will become mandatory for people taking public transport from June 15, transport minister Grant Shapps said.

With the relaxation in rules governing freedom of movement during the pandemic, as well as retail outlets reopening on the same day (June 15), a greater influx of passengers on trains and buses is expected. The measures have been put in place to minimise further spread or risk another peak in coronavirus cases.

The UK has been reluctant to mandate the widespread use of face masks, but Shapps said the benefits were clearer on public transport, where social distancing is harder.

“The evidence suggests that wearing face coverings offers some, albeit limited, protection, against the spread of the virus,” he said at a press conference.

“That doesn’t mean surgical masks, which we must keep for clinical settings, it means the kind of face covering you can easily make at home”.

Currently, passengers are being advised to wear a face covering, but are not stopped from travelling without one. Under the new rules, people could now be refused entry to different modes of transport or even fined by the police if travelling without a mask.

“Alongside transport operators, this will be enforced by the British Transport Police if necessary, but I expect the vast majority of people won’t need to be forced into this,” Shapps said.

The policy will have exemptions for young children and people with disabilities and breathing difficulties.

Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy told the briefing he is “not expecting a huge upsurge in railway staff having to police this”.

He added: “I am expecting sensible passengers to do their duty and look after themselves and others.”

Since the lockdown began on March 23, the government has told people to avoid non-essential use of public transport. While car traffic is back to almost three quarters of pre-lockdown levels, trains are currently only 10 per cent full and buses outside London are running at about 20 per cent capacity.

National Rail has said it will begin displaying red or yellow warning triangles next to services expected to be in high demand through its website or journey-planning app. The system will use analysis of journey planning trends and messages from rail staff at stations and on trains.

It should help passengers make decisions about whether they want to risk travelling on busier services or stagger their journeys across the day to avoid the most crowded trains.

“With capacity reduced to around one-fifth of that previously seen on our railways, it is important that people work from home if they can, stagger their travel times to avoid crowds and use other forms of transport wherever possible,” Shapps said.

“For those who need to use the train, it is fantastic to see innovative digital services rolled out to help keep them safe while on the move.”

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